“My husband picked up the blanket and her arm just fell out, limp beside her. She was limp like cooked spaghetti.”
When Townsville mum, Kirsha Retallick, went in to check on her nine-week-old baby one night she was confronted with every mum’s greatest fear – finding her newborn unconscious and lifeless.
“My husband picked up the blanket and her arm just fell out, limp beside her. She was limp like cooked spaghetti. She was completely lifeless and a really yucky creamy, grey colour,” she said of the experience which left her numb with fear.
Not knowing CPR, they called an ambulance and began trying to stimulate Annabelle, tipping her upside down and rubbing her.
“She did a massive vomit, and, in the ambulance, she was in and out of consciousness,” Kirsha said.
Mum and baby stayed in the hospital for four days while constant testing was done, including echograms, EEGs and chest X-rays but everything came back clear.
“The head paediatrician said she was fine and it was a borderline SIDS episode and the chance of it happening again was slim. When we were told to go home we felt sick and didn’t sleep. We slept her with us constantly because we didn’t want to have her out of our sight,” Kirsha said.
On the second day out of the hospital, Kirsha put Annabelle down between her legs to sleep while she played in the lounge room with her two-year-old son.
“She started looking like she wasn’t breathing properly and started to change colour and losing tone. She wouldn’t rouse so I picked her up and rubbed her all over. She was delirious,” Kirsha said.
“The nurse had to pinch her”
That night in the hospital while Kirsha dressed and the nurse held her, Annabelle stopped breathing and lost consciousness.
“The nurse had to pinch her to try to rouse her. She screamed and ran with her across the ward to the paediatric desk. I just stood there and froze and thought, ‘thank God someone else is seeing this’,” she said.
When Annabelle was born, Kirsha’s midwife/chiropractor diagnosed severe lip, tongue and buckle ties. The ties were so bad that she was unable to open her mouth enough to breastfeed and could barely take the teet of a bottle.
Annabelle’s tongue tie. Image: supplied.
Kirsha had been seeing the chiropractor every three days to help alleviate tension in the skull while she waited for an appointment for the ties to be revised at Enhance Dentistry in Brisbane.
Her head circumference dropped down to the second percentile as one of the plates in her head wedged beneath the other. With only two days to go before her revision appointment and specialists at the hospital shaking their heads as to the problem, Kirsha knew she needed to get on the plane to Brisbane.
“The paediatrician agreed there was cranial tension and in the end they felt that was the last thing left that could be causing it. We left the hospital with Annabelle on a breathing monitor that beeped every time she took a breath and a light that was either green, orange or red to indicate oxygen saturation. It stayed on orange, which meant the oxygen saturation wasn’t adequate. It was mortifying. You can see it right in front of you and when something isn’t right, and you can’t do anything about it,” Kirsha said.
Annabelle’s lip tie. Image: supplied.
Back in Brisbane, things improved
The family arrived in Brisbane the next day and after a consultation at Enhance, the ties were lasered within a couple of minutes. Dr Marjan Jones lay Annabelle on Kirsha’s chest and for the first time since she was born she was able to breastfeed.
“I cried and cried and cried. I am still emotional talking about it. I was very relieved that at least I had opened up our breastfeeding relationship. It was exhilarating,” Kirsha said, describing the experience.
On the drive home from the clinic they stopped the car and found Annabelle breathing rhythmically and calmly for the first time and the orange light now glowing green.
“It was just incredible. We kept the monitor on for the next two weeks and it remained green, indicating perfect oxygen saturation. After a week, her parietal bones had un-wedged and by a month her head had gone up to the 50th percentile and returned to normal shape,” Kirsha said.
She said Annabelle is now two and her and her husband still stare at her belly as she sleeps watching it move up and down rhythmically.
“It is something that will haunt us for the rest of our lives,” she said.
Annabelle’s buckle tie. Image: supplied.
Annabelle’s symptoms were severe
Dr Jones, a dental surgeon at Enhance Dentistry, said Annabelle’s symptoms were definitely severe.
“She came presenting a host of symptoms which are associated with ties, such as breastfeeding problems, colic, reflux, regular vomiting, short sleep episodes, congested breathing and snoring,” Dr Jones said.
Dr Jones said research is now showing SIDS is a form of obstructed sleep apnoea, which leaves infants vulnerable. “Research is showing that tongue restriction may be linked with sleep apnoea in older children and adults, so it’s possible there is a link in infants presenting with Annabelle’s symptoms. It’s an emerging theme we need to learn more about. Stanford University is showing that ties have an effect on airways and growth of the jaws and face. It is trailblazing research,” she said.
Dr Jones recommended health professionals take a measured approach and listen to mothers coming to them with concerns. She advised mothers to listen to their guts and seek the counsel of those who are trained or have sought additional training in the links between the ties and other issues.
“We see in our practice such airways issues across the lifespan. It is about the lifetime function, not just breastfeeding issues,” she explained.